Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

FIRST Robotics Australia Competition Doorstop

19 March 2016

Prime Minister

Minister for Foreign Affairs

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Well everyone, isn’t that exciting? Robots! Castles! Knights in armour and the latest technology. How inspiring to see so many young Australians and young people from all around the region. This is a very big international event and Luan Heimlich, the regional director of FIRST has done a fantastic job in pulling it all together. This is what the 21st century economy is all about. It’s all about innovation. It’s all about engineering and science and computing. That’s why we’re spending so much money out of our innovation and science agenda on ensuring that more kids learn computing science, STEM subjects, engineering, maths, all of those quantitative subjects right from primary school and keep at it until they can become the engineers and the computer scientists of the future. This is the future. This is the innovation age.

I was talking to Peter Brownlow who’s a teacher from Lithgow High School, he’s been teaching metal work and some computing science there at Lithgow High for twenty years and he’s here with his team for the first time in this competition and Peter said to me that, ‘there’s never been a more exciting time to be at Lithgow High School’ and I thought that was fantastic and I’m sure that’s right because they’re right here at the cutting edge at the most exciting part of technology. The technology that delivers the jobs the opportunities of the 21st Century for our children and our grandchildren. So it’s wonderful to be here with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Assistant Minister for Multiculturalism and local member Craig Laundy. We are so excited to be here and so inspired by these brilliant young people. And I hope you are too.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now that the Senate voting reforms are through, are you going to be looking for a weekend to hold an early election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s speculation every three years as we get to the end of the Parliament’s life there’s always speculation about an election but there will be an election later this year and the passage of the voting reforms to the Senate voting systems really a great day for democracy. And what that means is that Australians will determine where their preferences go. They’ll determine who their Senators are going to be rather than backroom deals and elaborate preference allocation deals between hosts of micro parties established for the sole purpose of that kind of gaming so this is a restoration, a very straightforward transparent democracy and our Parliament will benefit and the nation will benefit.

This is a case of significant reform. Used to be supported by the Labor Party too, but as you know they – for political reasons – they backed out and opposed it vehemently just over the last few weeks. But you know the Parliament is the most important single institution in our system of government and what this has done is made it more representative, more democratic and more effective and I think that’s a very important reform.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister the Victorian Government has said that it will fund the Safe Schools Program if Federal Funding falls through. What’s the status of [indistinct].

PRIME MINISTER: Well the Victorian Government obviously can fund whatever programs it wishes. Minister Simon Birmingham has responded responsibly and carefully in the light of an independent review of the program and I think he’s handled the matter very well.

JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop, to you if I may. The mother of suspected terrorist Khaled Sharrouf has apparently travelled to Syria to bring home her grandchildren. Is the government supporting the family in any way or will it?

FOREIGN MINISTER: The Australian Government has been in contact with the representatives of the family but this is a very tragic case and underscores the Government's position that Australian citizens should not travel to the areas of conflict in Syria and Iraq. We have very limited consular capacity in Syria. We do not have an embassy in Damascus and it is against the law for an Australian citizen, without lawful reason, to be in Al-Raqqa and parts of Iraq. So it's a very difficult situation. But we have been working with representatives of the family.

JOURNALIST: Do we know if the children are safe?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not in a position to comment on the circumstances of the children. But I can assure you that the Australian Government is in touch with the representatives of the family. But it just highlights the message that we have been giving that Australian citizens must not travel to Syria and Iraq unless they have a lawful reason for being there. They not only put their own lives in mortal danger but they add to the misery and the suffering of people in Syria and Iraq.

JOURNALIST: And if the children are bought back to Australia will they be allowed to settle here?

FOREIGN MINISTER: That would be a matter for our law enforcement agencies to consider at the time.

JOURNALIST: Just to you Prime Minister, you are a grandfather, do you have some sympathy for a grandmother going to Syria to rescue her children?

PRIME MINISTER: Everybody understands the human dimension to this, we all do. But what Julie said is absolutely right. For Australians to travel to those areas is against the law and for very good reason. It's protecting them and protecting the national security of Australia, which is, after all, the primary responsibility, the first responsibility of every government. So thank you very much indeed.